How NOT to be a Football Millionaire

By: Keith Gillespie

Phil Munnelly and Caroline got me involved with the project and I’m grateful you made the call. We’ve had plenty of laughs along the way and your hospitality is appreciated. The research was made easier by the scrapbooks and newspaper cuttings which his mother, Beatrice, has studiously maintained, aided by Keith’s remarkable memory of the little details. It’s been a pleasure to help construct this story. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Daniel McDonnell, September, 2013



THE phone is ringing. Number withheld.

It can run to voicemail, like most callers have for the past month. If the digits are unfamiliar, it’s probably something to do with the bundle of unopened letters gathering dust in the corner of the room.

I don’t like opening letters very much. Don’t like answering the phone to strangers either. But if they follow up with a few words after the tone, I listen.

“You have one new message,” says the automated voice that I know so well. I wait, and then a human takes over. A journalist, from the Belfast Telegraph.

“Keith, I’m just looking for your reaction to the news today...”

I stop listening, delete it and sit down on the couch So, this is it then. Finally, the day had arrived.

The main evening TV news confirms it. I flick over to find that my plight is the lead item. Clearly, October 1, 2010 is a slow day in Northern Ireland. The announcer reads in a sombre tone over a montage of clips from my career:

‘The news that football star Keith Gillespie had been declared bankrupt came in the High Court today.

‘An order was made against the former Manchester United and Newcastle United winger following a petition by HM Revenue and Customs Commissioners over a tax bill. The High Court document confirmed that the decision was taken on the basis of evidence from a solicitor from the petitioning creditor.

‘It said that Keith Robert Gillespie from Bangor was adjudged bankrupt on the 22 September. The statement also revealed that the official receiver had been appointed manager of his estate.

‘The 35-year-old spent much of his career in England, having also played for Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City and Sheffield United. He also won 86 caps for Northern Ireland. Mr Gillespie left Irish League side Glentoran in June after failing to agree terms.’

At least I’d warned Mum. On her last visit, she’d asked when I was going to deal with the stockpile of stuffed envelopes. I’ve always needed a kick up the arse to sort things out, and she is usually the instigator. But this problem is different.

Once it entered the legal realms, there could be no escaping the truth. Returning calls from accountants and solicitors serves no purpose. It isn’t going to change anything, so why bother?

I don’t have £137,000. Simple as that.

Another phone call. This time, from a number I do recognise. My agent, Phil Munnelly.

“What the fuck is going on, Keith?”

He’d heard the news on the radio.

I should have given Phil the heads-up. We’re good friends, we speak often. He’s bollocking me for keeping him out of the loop, and I struggle to explain why. Maybe I was embarrassed. Maybe I didn’t want the hassle.

He’s annoyed. By now, he’s aware of the quirks of his client. My trademark response to a crisis is to say nothing and hope that it goes away. Decide there’s nothing to worry about, and press on with things.

But he expected more of me this time. Phil knew I was in trouble. After all, I’ve been without a club for over three months. He just didn’t realise the full extent of it

I apologise to Phil and hang up.

Certainly, I’ve had better days.

Part of me hoped that nobody would notice. Other former Premier League footballers had gone through bankruptcy, and their shame slipped under the radar. I should have known it would be different in Northern Ireland. Big fish, small pond.

I pick up the phone one last time before switching it off and call my brother-in-law, Davy, to check that the usual team is in place for the following night’s table quiz down in our local pub.

“Are you on for it?” he said.

“I’ll be there.”

I don’t know if anyone is surprised when I walk through the doors of the Groomsport Inn, but nothing was going to stop me. My face might have been plastered all over that day’s papers, but I had a lifetime’s practice of dealing with controversy. Another smidgeon wasn’t going to hurt. In my mind, I’ve experienced far worse than this.

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